Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Simple Ladder Trick

This one will be short (seriously!).

Since I was a rookie, I've always been taught, with extension ladders, we carry it to position, untie the halyard, extend the fly, ensure the dawgs are secure, and re-tie the halyard. THEN we could climb it, provided it is at the proper climbing angle, footed securely, etc.

The whole un-tying and re-tying the ladder has bothered me ever since. It always seemed like a waste of time. That's because it is. What do we do when we arrive at a working house fire at 2AM, and a mother is SCREAMING that her child is IN THAT ROOM RIGHT THERE! If you have never heard screams such as this, consider yourself lucky.

So now the pressure is on. What do we do? Grab the ladder, carry it to position, walk it up, untie the damned halyard, extend the fly... do we re-tie it with mom screaming right there? I don't...

I've also not bothered tying it again on other, more routine (if there is such a thing) fires over my career, and gotten ass-chewings for it each time. "It's a trip hazard." Ok, why are we walking under ladders? We're not supposed to, but we all know it happens. 

There has got to be a better way.

I have thought this for years. YEARS! For over 23 years now. I'd asked others, especially the senior, respected members, and do you know the two most common answer I've gotten? I'll bet you do. "We've always done it that way" & "It's in the IFSTA manual".

We've always done it that way... There are good and bad points about that. When I am told that, I want to know WHY. Have other methods been tried, & did they work? Why or why not? I feel the "we've always done it that way" CAN have merit, IF it's backed up. I hate it as an absolute blanket statement.

It's in the IFSTA manual... Yeah, and so is a lot of other stuff. IFSTA may have printed the materials, but they don't set the standards. NFPA does. There are other companies out there who also sell training manuals. I feel it is high-time that we as a fire service let IFSTA know this. I'd go on about that, but I'm digressing from this blog's point.

Yes, it is in the IFSTA manual. I have seen it in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th editions. I happen to have a 4th edition here in front of me as I am writing this - on page 300, second column, second paragraph. It explains when and how to tie the halyard, and explains that it "prevents the fly from slipping and prevents anyone from tripping on the rope". I can't argue the part about tripping. I've heard it my whole career.

Can someone explain to me, just how is the halyard going to prevent the fly section from slipping? (By slipping, I am taking it to mean retracting on it's own.) Aren't we supposed to be sure the dawgs are set? It's basic ladder use. It's also easy to do. (Dawgs are ladder locks for my non-fire service friends reading this.) If the dawgs are properly set, the ladder isn't going to retract. If the dawgs fail, I think it's going to take more than a halyard to prevent catastrophe.

Ok... so fast forward through that boring stuff into present day. A few weeks ago, I saw a video of a firefighter in the Washington, D.C. area doing a VES operation. He carried the ladder to the window, set it up, extended it, set it, and climbed up, doing the drill. What caught my attention is that he didn't fuss with un-tying and re-tying the halyard. He just pulled it and extended the fly, set the locks, and went to work. 

I watched it several times. Not so much about the VES part of the drill, rather, the halyard.

Then it hit me: That company secured the end of the halyard around the bottom rung of the base section and to the anchor on the bottom rung of the fly section!

So, last shift, I pulled our extension ladder out (I'm on an engine company now, and we only have one 24ft extension ladder) and messed around some. It turns out that the halyard was the PERFECT length to do exactly as above. So, I secured the rope, and tried it out while still on the bay floor, and it worked perfectly. I went and got the other members of the company and showed them. They all said it seems good, but, agreeing with my thoughts, let's take it outside and try it on the wall. So we did. It worked like a charm!

Here you can see the halyard ran under the bottom rung on the base section.

Here, you can see the halyard secured to its anchor.

The best way to build up efficiency is to - wait for it - TRAIN! TRAIN! TRAIN!

Stay safe.
Thanks for reading. God bless.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Class A" Foam

The other night I was sent to another station to pick up the brush truck to go to a dump fire. It was maybe an acre(?) of logs, tree stumps, fallen trees, discarded Christmas trees, and the like. Our job was to contain it. We did, with the help of a couple dozers. We knocked down the edges of the fire and they dozed a line around it. Then we let it burn out on its own.

Our brush trucks have a Class A Foam system on them, which worked pretty slick! I was quite impressed! We were using it on our truck (my partner and I) and the other brush truck wasn't. The trucks are identical, both have 210 gallon water tanks with built in foam cells and there is a proportioner built in to the water pump, so you can dial in the percentage you want. On our CAFS pumpers we use 0.3%, so that is what I dialed it to.

It worked like a charm! Our tank lasted almost 2.5x longer than the other brush truck! (Remember, they were using plain water, not the foam mixture.) When we put out a fire in our sector, it went out faster than I am accustomed to (remember, I'm new when it comes to Class A Foam) and here's the cool part - it stayed out! We only had one flare up in our sector, and that was because we initially didn't realize it was seated five feet deep in that particular pile.